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Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lessons from Sandy

It has been three days since Sandy slapped the east coast, and the clean-up continues (and will keep going for weeks in some locations).

I was one of the lucky ones - our power never went out, we didn't miss a minute of reality TV or internet service. No trees crashed into our house, and the basement remains desert-dry. Even the little ceramic Halloween ghosts I left outside hanging on a tree survived to scare another day.
For many of our neighbors and friends, however, things didn't go so nicely. My father and sister still have no power (in NJ and upstate NY respectively), and other friends in this area are also without power. One neighbor had to go to Perkasie to help bail out a basement (no power = no sump pump = wet basement) while another has a giant tree to remove from their side yard (missed the house by a few feet).

And many of the Jersey shore towns we know so well are wrecked - some to the point where a serious discussion will need to happen as to whether they should be rebuilt. Same for New York City - the 108-year-old subway system is facing a crisis as it is mostly unprotected from New York Harbor. The destruction of the Point Breeze neighborhood in Queens was tragic on multiple levels - fire trucks couldn't even get to the neighborhood for two hours and once they did, they didn't have enough water pressure to do much. Irony!

Now that life is starting to get back to normal for most east-coasters, we have a little time to think about what we can learn from this storm.

My in-laws used this elevator last Friday during a visit to NYC. AP photo   
  • Though I was lucky, it would have taken little for that luck to evaporate. If the storm moved a little slower, or turned a little north, this could have been much worse for us inlanders.
  • Our coastline is more vulnerable than ever. No matter what you think about global climate change, this storm proves that destruction can and will happen. We really need to think about how we build and how much effort will go into re-building these shore towns over and over. And this isn't just an east coast thing - think about earthquake and tsunami zones around the world.
  • We have a lot of e-eggs in one basket. Some big web sites went down because their data centers were in NYC with no real backup. Our transactions, our information, and our economy are more and more dependent on the Internet, which fails pretty easily when the power is out.
  • In a big emergency, help might not come. Once the wind started howling Monday night, emergency crews were driving all over for reports of fires, downed wires, trees into houses, etc. But in Queens, there was no way for help to arrive. And NJ Gov. Christie called it right when he warned shore residents that they would not get help once the storm started.


And a few small practical items:
Life without Tastykakes
  • Let the dog pee / poop in the house. A guy in Berks county was killed when he went outside with his dog and was whacked by a tree branch. A plastic bag and some carpet cleaner could save your life.
  • Don't dig a moat around your shed. It probably won't help anyway.
  •  Don't stock up on perishable food before a big storm. Unless you really want to eat it all at once when the power and / or the generator fails.
  •  There are no good recipes for bottled water and white bread.
  • Jeopardy! will not air during a big storm. But Honey Boo-Boo continues uninterrupted.
  • Road Closed signs are usually there for a good reason. If you see cars turning around down a long road, don't bother driving up to find out if it is actually open. It isn't. 
  • When high-power transformers short out, it sounds like an ocean liner horn.
  • Everybody orders sausage sandwiches at Wawa after a storm. But they never run out of cheese.


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